Gilmer Free Press
G-Comm™: Hoppy’s Commentary - Straight Ticket Voting Advantage May Swing to GOP in WV
West Virginia is one of a dwindling number of states that still offers pure straight ticket voting (STV). Just 15 states allow voters to make one mark or push one button for all races. In November, Wisconsin will become the latest state to drop STV.
Of the states with STV, only West Virginia and 11 others offer voters the straight ticket option with no caveats. New Jersey, for sample, only permits STV in the primary, while in North Carolina presidential electors must be voted for individually.
West Virginia’s dominant Democratic Party has shown interest in eliminating STV. That’s probably because Democrats have a decided edge in voter registration (52% to 29%), hold a majority of public offices and have historically benefited the most from the straight ticket.
For example, in the 2008 General Election 14% of all ballots cast in the state were straight ticket Democrat, compared with nine% Republican. The edge in Democrat-only votes may have made a difference that year in at least two statewide races. Republican Dan Greear lost by just 6,000 votes to incumbent Democrat Darrell McGraw in the Attorney General’s race and Republican Beth Walker missed a spot on the state Supreme Court by 6,000 votes.
However, the political advantage of the one-vote-fits-all option appears to be shifting to the Republicans.
In the 2010 General Election, 15% of all votes cast were straight ticket Democrat, but the Republicans were up to 13%. And Republicans also demonstrated a higher degree of party loyalty. The number of straight ticket Republican votes (69,926) represented 20% of total party registration (350,357), while the number of straight ticket Democratic votes (81,245) represented just 12% of party registration (656,689).
Former state Republican Party Chairman Mike Stuart predicts Republicans will overtake Democrats in November in the number of STV’s because of President Obama is at the top of the Democratic ticket. “Conservative Democrats are going to check the Republican box,” Stuart said.
Stuart says even though his party may finally have the advantage, he would still like to see STV eliminated so that voters have to check every candidate in each race.
Former Democratic Party Chairman George Carenbauer is also an opponent of STV, which he believes is outdated. “People are more independent than they used to be,” Carenbauer said. “They have a lot more information than they used to and make up their own minds.”
Straight ticket voting dates back to the earliest elections in this country when voters simply told a polling clerk who they wanted to vote for. Since they often couldn’t remember all the names, they could just say the name of the party.
That evolved during the 1800’s into a system where the party handed out lists of their candidates and voters would hand the list to the clerk. Only when the government started printing the ballots in the late 1800’s did voters begin splitting their tickets.
More recently, ticket splitting has risen even more as the influence of the two dominant parties as waned and voters have become more knowledgeable about individual candidates.
Interestingly, former state Democratic Party Chairman Pat Maroney tried to stir up a retro movement at last weekend’s party convention by urging his fellow Democrats to vote straight ticket.
Maybe that will work in some parts of West Virginia—particularly the south—where you still see signs that say “mark the rooster” (the symbol at the top of the Democratic ballot). It’s more likely, however, that conservative Democrat opposition to President Obama will trump nostalgia.
If Democrats do lose their advantage in STV’s in 2012, it will create a timely opportunity for them to join with Republicans in eliminating this Election Day relic.